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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                    109
tank, the T-34, and before the winter became famous in
the battalion as the "man who knew no limit". Stories
were told and written about him that seemed incredible,
but were true, nevertheless. One night, sent out to recon-
noitre, he dashed at top speed through the German lines,
safely crossed their minefield and, firing his guns and
sowing panic among the enemy, he broke through to a
village that was half surrounded by the Soviet Army and
rejoined his own lines on the other side, causing no little
confusion in the enemy's ranks. On another occasion,
operating with a mobile group behind the German lines, he
dashed out from ambush and charged a German trans-
port column, crushing the horses and waggons under his
In the winter, at the head of a small tank group, he
attacked the garrison of a fortified village near Rzhev,
where a small enemy operative staff had its headquarters.
On the outskirts of the village, as his tanks were crossing
the defence zone, his own tank was hit by a bottle of
inflammable liquid. Sooty, suffocating flames enveloped
the tank, but the crew remained in action. The tank raced
through the village like a huge torch, firing all its guns,
twisting and turning, and chased and crushed the fleeing
German soldiers. Gvozdev and his crew, which he had
picked from the men who had been in the enemy rear
with him, were aware that they were likely to be blown
up any moment by the explosion of the fuel tank or am-
munition; they were suffocating from the smoke, burnt
themselves against the red-hot armour, their clothing was
already smouldering, but they fought on. A heavy shell
that burst under the treads overturned the tank and,
either by the force of the blast or by the clouds of sand
and snow that it raised, blew the flames out. Gvozdev was
taken out of the tank, suffering from frightful burns. He
had been in the turret next to the dead body of the
gunner, whose place he had taken.
For two months the tankman had been lying between
life and death without hope of recovery, taking no in-
terest in anything, and sometimes not uttering a word for
The world of severely wounded men is usually limited
by the four walls of their hospital ward. Somewhere